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C.S.Kipping 1891-1964

C.S.Kipping, Headmaster of Wednesbury Boys’ High School from 1924 to 1956 can be justly claimed to be one of the most remarkable and influential schoolmasters in the Black Country of the present century. His fame resides by no means solely in the influence he brought to bear on the many pupils he taught, and who grew to admire and respect him. His powerful personality, together with his marked idiosyncrasies, were almost as well-known outside the school as to those over whom he held sway for so many years. While in the field of chess he had an international reputation as perhaps the most prolific composer of chess problems and most famous chess problem editor of all time. It is amusing to note that solvers and composers of problems in the publications he edited were told to write to C S Kipping, Wednesbury, England – this address is sufficient.

This short biographical article can be little more than a sketch of the man and it is hoped that a more comprehensive account of his life, character, and work may some day appear.

C.S.Kipping teaching Boys

Family background, birth, and early life

C.S.Kipping was the elder son of Frederick Stanley Kipping of Higher Broughton near Manchester, and Lily Holland, a daughter of W.T.Holland JP of Bridgewater, his father and mother being first cousins. His father was an organic chemist of great distinction, whose researches on organo-silicon compounds over a long period is widely acknowledged to have laid the foundations of the modern silicone industry. His paternal grandfather, James Stanley Kipping, held a post in the Manchester branch of the Bank of England and must have been a chess player of considerable ability, for in a blind-fold simultaneous display by the world-famous American chess genius Paul Morphy held in Birmingham in 1859, he was the only one of eight players to defeat Morphy. C S Kipping’s own ability and interest in chess, appeared to have been either inherited from or stimulated by this grandparent.

Soon after his marriage, his father was appointed chief demonstrator in the Chemistry Department at the Central Technical College of the City and Guilds of London Institute, and he and his wife moved to 7 Milborne Grove, South Kensington. It was here on October 10th, 1891 that C S Kipping was born. He was baptised Cyril Henry Stanley, but later in life he invariably dropped his second initial.

In 1897, his father was elected a fellow of the Royal Society and was appointed Professor of Chemistry at University College, Nottingham. A post he held until his retirement in 1936. Two of Mrs Kipping’s sisters also married distinguished chemists. An older sister Mildred married William Henry Perkins Junior, later Waynflete Professor of Chemistry at Oxford, while a younger sister Kathleen married Arthur Lapworth, subsequently Professor of Chemistry at Manchester University. Thus C S Kipping, not only had a father, but also two uncles by marriage, who were all Fellows of the Royal Society. The family’s home in Nottingham was in Clumber Road West, The Park, Nottingham, a pleasant residential district of the town, and there with two sisters and the younger brother Frederick Barry (who later became a lecturer in chemistry at Cambridge) CSK grew to manhood.

School and University

In September 1902 he entered Nottingham High School where he won numerous prizes, mostly in mathematics and science. He obtained the Oxford and Cambridge Board’s Lower Certificate in 1906 and 1907, passed the London University Matriculation in January 1908, and the Oxford and Cambridge Higher Certificate in 1909. At the same time his interest in chess was developing and he has himself related how, during his schooldays, he met J N Derbyshire, a Nottingham manufacturer and chess enthusiast, at a simultaneous tournament given by Dr Emmanuel Lasker, the world chess champion. Mr Derbyshire, on that occasion, invited him to tea and introduced him to the champion. Next to chess perhaps was his love of and interest in lawn tennis, and he was several times thrilled and privileged to see the famous Dougherty brothers in action. While there is no mention of chess, in his school record, he did win the school tennis singles tournament in 1909.

Kipping left Nottingham High School in July 1910, and proceeded to Trinity Hall, Cambridge where he read for the Natural Sciences Tripos. Here he found time from his studies to devote to his main hobbies. He played tennis for his college and must by now have been well-launched into the composition of chess problems. J M Rice in his book, “ABC of Chess Problems” quotes a three-move problem, which appeared above Kipping’s name in the Manchester Evening News in 1911, referring to it as “the most famous problem ever composed”.

He was diligent in attendance at college chapel and occasionally read the lesson. He was fond in later years of telling how on one such occasion, having arrived inescapably at the reading desk and consulted the lectionary, he found he was called upon to read Ecclesiastes XLIV. Having at that time never heard of the Apocrypha, still less of Ecclesiasticus, he opened the Bible at Ecclesiastes and found to his horror that it contained only 12 chapters. Thereupon, when his time for reading arrived, he read out the last chapter as being the nearest you could get to 44.

Whatever the divversions of college life, his work did not suffer and he obtained a first in Part I of the Tripos in 1912 and a first in Part II in 1913, taking the degree of BA on June 17th 1913. At this point, no doubt under the influence of his father, he started a programme of Research in Organic Chemistry at Cambridge, but became progressively disenchanted with academic research.

Weymouth, Bradfield and Pocklington

On the outbreak of the First World War Kipping joined the Cambridge OTC, and having decided to quit research and take up teaching, moved to Weymouth College to take up an appointment in September 1914. There, he took charge of the OTC, received his commission in December 1914 and remained in command until December 1918, when as a lieutenant, he was transferred to the 5th London Regiment. Weymouth College was a private school of considerable reputation during this period, but it was closed in 1939, and there appears to be no record of Kipping’s other duties while on the staff there.

However, by the end of 1918 the war was over. In January 1919 he took his MA degree at Cambridge, and joined the teaching staff, Bradfield College (Berks). This may possibly have been a temporary post since he was there only one term, and by the summer of the same year had been appointed an assistant master at Pocklington School (East Yorkshire). Here, he spent five happy years.

He took over the school cadet corps and has been described as “an untiring and painstaking OC”. He taught chemistry, and injected life into the school Science Society, of which he became president. It was at this school that we first learn of another of his lesser talents — a great skill in juggling. In 1920 he trained a troop of jugglers, who gave a display at a school concert. This performance was repeated annually during his stay at Pocklington, and appears to have been very popular.

Meanwhile, he continued to compose chess problems and, in 1923 published a little book for beginners called “The Chess Problem Hobby”.

Wednesbury Boys’ High School

In the Black Country, Staffordshire County Council was proceeding with plans to extend secondary education in the area and had decided to open a grammar school for boys in Wednesbury to serve the same area as Bilston Girls’ High School, which had opened in 1918. The initial school building was Wood Green House in St Paul’s Road, the former residence of Sir Albert Pritchard, local manufacturer and four times mayor of Wednesbury. To be headmaster of this new school, the authorities appointed C S Kipping.

The school opened on September 17, 1924 with three graduate assistant masters and 51 boys, selected by examination and interview. The School gradually grew in size, and, with the addition of new buildings opened in 1926 and 1932, by the outbreak of the Second World War numbers had reached 235 with an assistant staff of 11. Even so, it was not possible to have double form entry throughout the school and it was only after the war, with the provision of two additional prefabricated classrooms erected at the rear of the school, that this became possible.

One advantage, however, of the siting of the school was the immediate adjacency of a large tract of bare land of some six acres or so, which was acquired, levelled and easily converted into a school playing field. At the far end of the field, partly obscured by trees, stood the house where C S Kipping lived for most of his years as Headmaster.

Wednesbury Boys’ High School was almost certainly the only school in the country where chess was introduced as part of the curriculum. Kipping started this in 1928, a special demonstration board about 4 feet square, which could be mounted on an easel being used to demonstrate to classes the moves, the more important openings, and certain types of end game. One or two periods each week were allocated to indoor games and Kipping would select half a dozen or so boys to play simultaneously, almost invariably winning all the games. In this way Wednesbury High School soon developed a unique reputation for chess and matches were arranged with local schools who were generally overwhelmed. In addition famous players were frequently invited to the school to give lectures and simultaneous displays. Among these were E Znosko-Borovsky, Sir George Thomas (at the time British Chess Champion) and J Mieses, and in addition many county players of high repute. Perhaps the most memorable occasion was the visit in January 1937 of G Koltanowski, the world famous single ‘blindfold’ chess master who played 12 games simultaneously without sight of the board, winning 11 of them and drawing one.

The school was ultimately, in 1939, presented with the British Chess Federation Shield for distinguished achievements in chess, and no doubt it was a source of personal joy to Kipping that the presentation was made by none other than his old friend J.N.Derbyshire, by that time, Deputy President of the BCF, who had first introduced him to Dr Lasker more than 30 years before.

Kipping the man

C.S.Kipping was a tall man with a domed, bald head, deep-set eyes and a heavy moustache. He had a formidable and almost foreboding presence. Even at the age of 30, old boys at Pocklington remember him as “a rather grim figure of authority pacing slowly up the aisle, hands behind his back, to his seat in chapel on Sundays”. He was certainly held in awe, and to some extent, fear, by his boys at Wednesbury, and even, one suspects, by some members of his staff. Yet, underneath this exterior, he was a kindly man with a great sense of humour, not the least when the joke was against himself, and in many ways a very humble one.

He had no sense or care for dress whatsoever. He wore invariably a black shiny suit, white shirt with winged collar and black tie, and a black boots. His outdoor attire normally consisted of an ancient trilby hat, a brown muffler and a fawn raincoat, and he carried a thick, gnarled walking stick. In school, attired in academic gown and mortar board, in assembly or in the classroom, with upright military stance, he was an awe-inspiring figure. For his classes in the chemistry laboratory, however, he abandoned academic attire and came stalking solidly along the corridors, keys jangling in his pocket, to unlock the laboratory and let in a form, standing docilely in a quiet queue, awaiting his arrival.

His chemistry lessons were given extempore, usually with the whole class clustered round the master’s bench where he would perform numerous demonstrations with a continuous running commentary, punctuated with witticisms. When the joke was against himself, he would appear to enjoy it all the more. Thus, on one occasion, while re-demonstrating a complicated experiment, he paused and enquired of the class, “well, and what do we do now?” From the back of the throng came the muttered, but clearly audible remark: “watch and pray!” There was much chuckling at this, and Kipping, grinning broadly identified the perpetrator of this sally, bent him over the bench and delivered a good-humoured whack on his posterior with the flat face of a metre stick.

Kipping had a certain weakness of the throat, caused, he once explained by foolishly gargling in his youth with a dilute solution of carbolic acid. This weakness was manifested by a deep clearing of the throat immediately prior to making some ex-cathedra utterances. As a palliative for this condition he would, from time to time, pop into his mouth a glycerine and thymol lozenge. The effect of this was probably more than offset by his habit of smoking hand-rolled cigarettes using cigarette papers and “Old Judge” tobacco.

Some of the happiest memories and that the writer has of Kipping are of the time just before the last war, when, as the only senior sixth former doing chemistry, he spent two or three periods by his side in his cosy study, redolent with the faintly pleasant aromatic odour of throat lozenges and “Old Judge”. The headmaster would be presented with a sheaf of papers containing essays and answers to questions from previous examination papers for comment and criticism. His attitude was gentle, relaxed, and good-humoured. “Your writing is perfectly deplorable”, he once remarked.”It’s far too legible!”. And in another session, after pushing his way through a tedious account of the structure of the atom, “Yes, my boy” (with a gentle pat on the back) “but it’s like a Macaulay essay!” and then pausing and stroking his moustache he went on “You know the things they do with the atom these days seem to me positively indecent”.

Sometimes during these periods he would talk about his research days at Cambridge when every compound he tried to prepare ended up as a black tar. At others he would relate amusing anecdotes about his father. These were always friendly and peaceful occasions, the mask of ferocity discarded, and something of the real man revealed. For he was a bachelor, relying on the whims of a succession of housekeepers, and a childless one, and his boys meant more to him than many of them realised.

On half holidays he would frequently have a party of them to tea at his house. There he would preside at the end of a long dining table laden with plates of cakes, dispensing tea —avoiding the “uncivilised habits”, as he put it, of pouring the milk in first — and now and again, providing milk for his numerous cats wandering about, at his feet. After tea, there would be chess, draughts or backgammon, and often table tennis in which he joined with much vigour.

While his great grandfather had been a distinguished painter, and his father was a great opera lover, CSK took little or no interest in the arts. He was passionately fond of tennis and continued to play until he was forty. He was also keen on football and cricket and a keen spectator and critic at virtually every school football and cricket match. He always insisted that, win or lose, games should be played in a gentlemanly and sportsmanlike manner. Moreover, he saw to it that the boys came back on half-holidays to watch and support the school teams in their matches against other schools.

At the end of each term after a brief assembly with prayers, lesson, and a hymn, he would proceed to his study, and his boys would queue up outside to go in, shake his hand, and say goodbye. There were very few whose names he did not know, and some were favoured with Christian names. He had a loyal and devoted staff, whom he left largely to their own devices, quite a number of them serving him for more than 30 years.

Chess and Chess Problems

His endeavours to promote chess in the district led him to join in the revival in 1942 of a Walsall Chess Club, of which he was made President, and which adopted the name “Walsall Kipping” in his honour. Branches of the club were also formed at Wednesbury and at Wolverhampton Kipping. The branch at Wednesbury has not survived, but that at Wolverhampton became an independent club, and both Walsall Kipping and Wolverhampton Kipping clubs continue to flourish.

His greatest interest, however, remained in his Chess Problem hobby. In earlier days he was for many years Problem Editor of a publication called “The Chess Amateur” which went out of existence in 1930. Thereafter he became General Editor of “The Problemist”, the organ of the British Chess Problem society, in 1932 continuing with that work until his death. In addition, from 1935 to 1958 he was Problem Editor of the well-known magazine, “Chess”. He always took the greatest interest in his problem solvers, and gave particular encouragement and help to budding problem composers. It is estimated that he himself composed over 7000 problems of all types and was probably the most prolific composer of all time.

Retirement and Death

When in December 1956, at the age of 65, he retired as Headmaster, half his interest in life was taken from him. He moved to a house, only a mile or so away from the school, in Slaney Road, Walsall, and there tried to adjust himself to the new conditions. He visited friends, old colleagues, and neighbouring headmasters whom he knew, and received their hospitality with gratitude and appreciation. But he always returned to his own lonely wife-less home with a twinge of regret. Sometimes he received visitors, and he kept up his chess problem work and contacts to the end.

He was rewarded in 1957 by being made an International Judge of Chess Compositions by the Federation Internationale des Echecs, the international body governing chess activities throughout the world, and two years later was one of two Englishmen among the first to receive the newly-created title of Master of Chess Composition. Had he lived longer, he would no doubt have received the recently introduced higher honour of Grand Master. This however was not to be and he died suddenly at his home on February 17, 1964.

One of his earliest colleagues at Wednesbury, W.R.Swale, later Headmaster of Heath Grammar School, Halifax, has a written of him:

“He was to me never less than kind, helpful and considerate and to quote our greatest poet

‘He was a man, take him for all in all,

I shall not look upon his like again’.”

His many former colleagues and pupils would echo these sentiments, and will always look back on him with affection, and a smile. And that is perhaps what he would have liked most.